I don’t want to write a big synopsis of this novella since it’s very short and I don’t want to spoil it. Let’s just say that it is a story about Binti, a sixteen year old prodigy Himba girl and her travel to Oomza University, the best university in the Universe. It is mostly a coming of age story and a reflexion on diversity and how difficult it can be to interact with people coming from different places and cultures.
This little novella has been received quite a bit of atention since its release in 2015, it is now on a couple of big awards shortlist like the Nebula and the BSFA and since I am, very loosely, trying to read the BSFA shortlist, I decided to give it a try.
In January, I read Lagoon by Okorafor and even if I liked it, it didn’t grab me as much as I wanted and, well, the same thing happened with Binti.
Binti is a good work, I can’t deny that, but for me at least, it lacked what transform a good work into a great one. First of all, the pacing was completely off in my opinion, this is a short work, I know that but, it could have been a little more developped and still be in the word count of a novella. The story had some time gaps that annoyed me quite a bit because I didn’t find them well handled at all. I really enjoy reading short works but for me, one of the key elements of a good short fiction/novella/novelette is a good pacing since, the shorter the work, the more the reader can see pacing problems.
However, the pacing wasn’t my only problem with Binti. For me, it lacked a lot of subtlety, it had a message to say and it shoved it in your face during the whole reading. I like books that make me think but I also like when they are subtle. Binti was just not.
Also, I had some problem with some decisions the character of Binti made during the book. Okorafor keeps reminding us how smart Binti is, but for me she was more awkward and naive than anything else. I liked that she was Himba and I really enjoyed the description of her culture and her country but, I think that it was the only thing I really enjoyed about her.
For a story about diversity, I just found that Binti had a very simplified visions of the world, basically we are introduced to a world where the Oomza University, the best university of the universe, is composed by almost every species in the galaxy. However, we are only told about two different cultures, the Himba, Binti’s people and the Khoush, another culture where its people are vaguely described as “pale” and wering “turbans and veils” and we learn about two races, Humans and the Meduses. Yes Okorofor metionned other aliens but she never made the effort to at least describe some of them and, because of that, it was very difficult for me to paint a vivid picture of the world.
I know I sound negative but, I tend to always be more critical toward works that receive a lot of attention because I try to understand what make them so important or great in the eyes of other people. Yes Binti is an enjoyable works. Does it deserve this amount of attention compared to other works ? I really don’t know.
If you read Binti and you want to read an extremely well thought out review, I would highly recommend that you check this incredible review Strange Horizons published this month.